@Claremont

Music-Making in a Pandemic: Updated COVID-19 Protocols for Ensembles

Isabel Li ’25
Staff Writer

After weeks of uncertainty following the latest COVID-19 surge, students enrolled in the Joint Music Program’s Claremont Concert Orchestra (CCO) finally returned to Garrison Theater on Jan. 31 for their first in-person rehearsal of the season. As the student musicians approached their stands with fresh music, they were also greeted with an unfamiliar paper— a page that detailed their new set of protocols to preserve music-making while reducing the spread of the virus.

CCO musicians, however, are no strangers to special COVID-19 protocols. During the first half of the fall 2021 semester, members of the CCO experienced awkward orchestra setups with wind and brass musicians spaced out in the audience area while string and percussion musicians played onstage.

In preparation for last semester’s outdoor concert, the musicians even had to rehearse outside Garrison Theater with fingers numbed by the cold, windy evening weather. Fortunately, the orchestra was later granted permission to rehearse with a normal indoor arrangement for their second concert of fall 2021.

However, with the threat of the Omicron variant, the guidelines were once again modified to keep musicians safe. According to the new guidelines documented on CCO’s new protocols, testing requirements have been updated.

“Following the latest LA County guidelines, all orchestra members—regardless of their instrument—will be required to be tested three times a week beginning the first week of rehearsals,” was written in the CCO Safety Guidelines and Repertoire provided to CCO students.

These new standards are more rigorous than last semester’s, which only required woodwind and brass musicians to submit a PCR saliva test three times per week. The students themselves are responsible for keeping up with increased testing, something that is pivotal to maintaining safe rehearsals and performances during a raging pandemic.

Consistent with the 5C’s new mask regulations, orchestra members must also use surgical or N95 masks when rehearsing, with wind players using modified masks and instrument covers due to the nature of their instruments.

However, the orchestra is not the only ensemble with strict measures to stop COVID-19. The Joint Music Program’s Claremont Concert Choir, which rehearses across the street in Balch Auditorium, has also issued a testing requirement of three times a week for its choir musicians. Additionally, each choir member has also been given a special “singer’s mask,” which is specially designed for singing while restricting the spread of particles. The masks, which are larger than surgical or N95 masks, fully wrap around the singer’s face and leave enough space to breathe easily. These modifications in PPE effectively allow choir members to practice and rehearse as an ensemble safely and relatively comfortably.

Besides the rigorous COVID-19 testing behind each rehearsal and the upgraded masks that all musicians are required to wear, the ensembles are still very much active, with the musicians regularly rehearsing new music for the season.

Amidst the uncertainty of a pandemic, one thing is certain: the students’ passion and commitment to making beautiful music. Although adherence to the new requirements and adjustments to the COVID-19 regulations may be painstaking, musicians of both Joint Music ensembles are willing to act in accordance to the guidelines in order to keep music-making alive in the 5Cs. Both ensembles are preparing for in-person performances later in the semester, so make sure to watch these talented and hard-working musicians onstage in the Performing Arts Center!

The CCO’s first cycle’s concerts will be on Mar. 5 and 6, and the second cycle’s concerts will be on April 30 and May 1. The choral concert will be held on April 24. All Joint Music performances will be held in Garrison Theater, located at 241 East 10th Street. For more information, please visit www.jointmusicprogram.org.

Image Source: Ellen Hu ’24